Fifteen years ago. It’s the day before Thanksgiving. I’m younger. More energetic. Supple lower back.
There I am, trapped in the backseat of a Ford. An older man sits at the wheel, his wife beside him, a girl next to me.
The girl is holding my hand. She and I are getting married in a month. She’s invited me to Keego, Alabama for Thanksgiving.
Her daddy yells something to us.
“JEEZUS DADDY,” my soon-to-be bride hollers back. “DO YOU HAVE TO TALK SO LOUD?”
“I DON’T TALK LOUD!”
“EVERYONE IN THIS GOD-FORSAKEN FAMILY TALKS LOUD!” screams her mother.
“HORSE HOCKEY!” he says. “BOTH Y’ALL TALK LOUDER THAN A COUPLE OF DAMN BOTTLE ROCKETS!”
They’re a close-knit family.
We’re in the sticks. We drive through the woods. We pass tall pines, camellias, a pond with cattails growing around it.
When we arrive, we unload hundred-pound coolers into the kitchen. Her father makes the kitchen stove come alive. He flours the countertops, boils butterbeans, slices hardboiled eggs for giblet gravy. He’s prepping for tomorrow.
He’s cooking everything but the cupboard doors.
This old house does something to the family. It brings them closer, makes them giddy. And it makes me recall my own family holidays, and how sad they became after my father passed.
“My mama was a good cook,” her father explains, stirring collards. “THIS was her apron, and THIS was her skillet.”
The whole family is reverent about the woman they call Granny. I learn about her. Like: how she wore housecoats, how she made biscuits by feel, owned a dishwasher but didn’t trust it, loved fishing—but not on Sundays.
That night, we stay up late, laughing in the den. I fall asleep on the sofa. Her father covers me with a blanket.
The next morning—I’m stiff from cramped sleep. The sun isn’t up yet. Nobody’s awake. I wander through the old house. Floorboards creak. The heater smells like dust.
There’s a photograph on a side table. In the picture, a huge family. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, third cousins, twice-removed great God-parents, and birddogs. They’re all smiling.
My family wasn’t like this. I’m sorry to say, we were broken and small. Childhood holidays only made it worse. Just the Thanksgiving before, I’d eaten at Waffle House while Mama worked overtime.
Her father startles me with a hand on my shoulder. He’s been up a while. He’s even made me breakfast.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” he says. “You ain’t gotta be blood to be family, son.”
I know it was only a figure of speech, but it had been a long time since anyone called me that.